The completion of a new outdoor classroom at the Lyle Center for Regenerative Studies brings it closer to fulfilling an ambitious project that links learning, food production and creative opportunities for students.
The goal is to use regenerative agriculture to support three aligned campus initiatives: food production and nutrition programming at the Center; the food insecurity mission of Associated Students, Inc.; and carving out an innovation hub for students with the Student Innovation Idea Labs. A 2018 Basic Needs Initiative study found that 41.6% of CSU students experience food insecurity. Of that group, 20% reported low food insecurity, and 21.6% very low food insecurity.
The project began in Summer 2020 as part of an integrated plan for the Center’s grounds developed by a small team of faculty, staff, volunteers and outside partners, said Interim Director Pablo La Roche.
The core team includes La Roche, Landscape Architecture Professor Emeritus Robert Perry, Associate Professor Aaron Fox, administrative analyst Deborah Scheider, and site technician Jillian Gomez (’10, master’s in regenerative studies; ’07, agronomy). Funding the $100,000 project are the Kellogg Legacy Award; Student Innovation Idea Labs; Associated Students, Inc.; and real estate developer Randall Lewis, a sustainability advocate and longtime supporter of the College of Environmental Design.
The Center also partnered with the Pomona chapter of the California Conservation Corps (CCC) to bring to life Perry’s proposed outdoor classroom design – a shallow amphitheater-style space nestled between the Village Green growing area and the Center’s Commons kitchen. Two CCC crews spent 500 hours removing the overgrown banana palms and uneven urbanite path from the 800-square-foot project site before constructing the walls that provide structure to the seating area.
The classroom physically – and philosophically – connects the Village Green and the kitchen. Classes like RS 4990 (Edible Landscapes) and RS 5170 (Community Practice Lab) are a thematic fit, and the hope is that other University programs will find a similar inspiration. The produce that will be grown in the Village Green will increase the Center’s food donations to the Poly Pantry, which received more than 15 pounds of blackberries and 300 pounds of apples from the recent summer harvest. The kitchen already connects to the Commons’ classroom-turned-event space, making it an ideal location for student stations for special projects and staff cooking.
The inaugural fellows of the Center’s Randall Lewis Fellowship Program, students Ryan Lutz and Kevin Corona, spent the summer pruning, irrigating and harvesting the blackberry and apple crops; clearing the Village Green of weeds and old fencing for vegetable planting; and cleaning the Commons kitchen for anticipated use this fall. Lutz is studying geography and regenerative studies, Corona agribusiness and food industry management.
“While some very tangible results were manifested this summer, I believe the most important achievements resulting from this fellowship of which I am most proud are the intangible: building working relationships with people, and the privilege of working on campus, outdoors, since May,” Lutz said. “There were a few hot days, but it was worth it to be outside working with my hands.”
For Gomez, the project is a full-circle moment. Her thesis was on the lost connection between the kitchen, garden and cooking.
“It’s exciting to go from being a student to realizing the potential of the Center in the new ways we can make it more welcoming and accessible to the community,” she said.